“There’s a whole world beyond one’s self interest. Be a harbinger of justice for those who yearn for it. Be aware of the apathy of feudal society and class biases to courts. Your profession is an opportunity to restore the dignity of citizens who feel vulnerable and oppressed.” These lines as said by Ms. Sheela Barse, a veteran activist, have urged me to draw the attention of commoners to the unheard cries of helpless Indian goddesses and hapless child prodigies at the time of Covid-19 through this write-up.
Where the world is singing laurels of female leaders for their rationale to ward off the coronavirus chaos, contrarily, this pandemic has concomitantly added to the existing state of vulnerability of women and children in few states where they are already classified as deprived classes in terms of their socio-economic standards. As it has already been reported by UN Population Fund (UNPF), pandemics increase the risk of gender-based violence; during Ebola outbreak, women and children experienced higher rates of sexual violence.
Currently when the chips are down globally, our country is also busy observing strident nationwide lockdown to alleviate the ill effects of Covid-19. But it poses a serious question as whether it would escalate the innate propensity of the patriarchal society to attack their women in times of crisis where they can actually find no immediate recourse?
Reportedly, psychological trauma of the poor women along with the physical brutalities has also got doubled. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has said that there has been a steep rise in the crimes against women making it to receiving 587 complaints amidst lockdown so far. According to Dr.Natalia Kanem, executive director of the UNFPA, the coronavirus outbreak has “severely disrupted” access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and gender-based violence (GBV) services “at a time when women and girls need these services most”. The violence involve inability of women to temporarily escape abusive partners, sexual abuse by strangers, reduced availability of health services to them especially in case of complications arising during pregnancy or at the time of child birth and also loss to their financial stability as they are more likely to lose jobs once the lockdown is lifted.
There is a wide range of reported crimes committed during lockdown which have caused deadly impact on survivors’ mental health than causing physical harm to them. Lately, a senior resident doctor at AIIMS, Delhi tried to commit suicide allegedly over sexual harassment and caste-based jibes at her by some faculty members in her department. In n another case, a ration dealer raped a woman while delivering order at her doorstep in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Yet in an ordeal, a woman complaint of her husband being rude and not helping her in household chores. The things become even worse when even healthcare fraternity, especially female doctors, nurses and ASHA workers are also harassed while being on national duty. It is indeed appalling that where several mental health institutes and non-profit organizations are working 24*7, releasing videos and allowing free access to their online web content to people helping them fight the psychological trauma created due to the fear of this global pandemic, there are people who still have to battle their safety and dignity within the bounds of their residence or workplace.
Talking about the effects of lockdown over children, the Indian Child Protection Fund (ICPF) has claimed that the demand for Child Pornography has spiked during this period in India. It collected data from world’s largest pornography website Pornhub. It has also warned of the drastic consequences if not handled in time. It has also been stated by Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women (the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women) that the technique used to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence. For an instance due to the closing of schools and day care facilities, children are now at greater risk of domestic violence. Violence against women and children are intrinsically liked due to their common means of committal and consequences.
As a stringent measure to override the same, NCW has published an emergency helpline number for women to redress their complaints at the earliest. National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has also issued an advisory to the states to ensure that schools holding online classes are doing so only after taking adequate precautions and safety measures to protect children from cyber bullying and abuse. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also earmarked possible ways in which governments can combat the violence against women and children in their states. They may be excessive funding for the upkeep of survivors, expansion of services to them and limiting the risk factors involved for their mental and physical well-being. Mediators can also play a pro-active role in bringing conciliation between the parties. The Union Cabinet has also promulgated an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, making acts of violence against medical staff a cognizable and non-bailable offence, also awarding them compensation for loss to any property.
The Governments and NGOs’ have to make a joint effort to dovetail the incumbent need and the dire consequences of lockdown upon women and children both prior and post entering into the third phase of this national closure. The situation demands that we must together raise our voices high against such violence and seek community outreach. A model strategy has to be silhouetted against this darkened pitch of distress so that the victims may be assured of a sheer life of dignity and self- contentment.
About Author –
Ramsha Tanwir has completed masters in commercial laws from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh and She is currently looking forward to pursuing research in the same area.